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It has been done for the sake of all. For to undo it would bring disaster upon the Nine Realms. One man suffers for all to survive. It is a price he pays for us all. The Norns
Sisters Three
Sacred Guardians of Yggdrasil, the tree of all life and death

~~~oOo~~~

Title-RBB-2014-CapIron-FINAL

Splashing cold water on his face, he allows it to drip into the well of the white porcelain sink. He grips the edge, the cold, hard edge and fights the images battling inside his head. He knows what he needs to do, what he should do, but he can’t. He’s vowed to wait, to allow Bucky the time he needs to recover.

He looks down and sees the red all over his hands again, the blood. He twists the faucets on and scrubs at his hands until the flesh is pink and glowing. Nothing works, nothing helps him. He can still smell the metal of the blood, the sluggish pump of it as it leaks out of his love’s chest. He gags and bends over the sink waiting for the contents of his stomach to make an unwelcome appearance. But even in this he is paralyzed.

He stands up, straightens his shoulders, and tears a paper towel from the dispenser. He dries his face, runs fingers through the mess of his hair, and cracks his neck. He needs to get himself together, he needs to visit Bucky, and not show him how terrible it is. To know an assassin is after Captain America, to know his lover is in danger, it strangles him and pulsates in his chest until his ears are pounding with blood.

He’s ready for this, he’s played the revenge game before. He knows the pitfalls, and the mistakes. He knows what to do and what not to do. Swinging open the men’s room door on the third floor of the critical care unit in the hospital, he strides toward the room and ignores the queries from the nurses, the doctors.

Before he makes it to the hospital room, she stops him. “Tony.”

He turns and Pepper stands in the waiting area, her eyes look blood shot and he tries to focus but she still looks hazy through the red of his rage.

She reaches out and grasps his hand. “Tony, they told me what happened.”

“What happened?” His mind cycles in ever increasing spirals as if he’s trying to encompass the whole of the circumstance, the situation, the city, the state, the continent, the world to figure out how this could have happened.

Captain America does not get assassinated.

“Natasha told me that he’s going to be all right, he’ll be fine,” Pepper says and she states it like it is a consolation prize. He doesn’t like it, and tugs his hand away.

“I don’t,” he says and looks down at his hand. It isn’t the first time he sees the thread, it’s like an after image – always has been an after image. It tangles in his fingers and splits into two different directions. One is red, the other is gold. It is beautiful, but also just an illusion. An hallucination of others times, times that haunt him still.The adrenaline, the shock has brought the old hallucinations back.

He ignores it, which might be his first mistake. He can’t find the right words, and he blames it on the haze. “Captain America doesn’t get assassinated.”

“He wasn’t.” Pepper says and ushers him over to the waiting area.

“He damn well nearly was. The shooter hit him square in the chest,” Tony says and thinks about how it should have been a killing shot. It would have been, if not for --. Tony squeezes his eyes shut. He hate to think about how things could have been.

“Captain America doesn’t die,” Tony states – just for the record. But in his mind, he thinks – except when he does – and happens to look down at his hands again to see the red thread pulsate like it might drip blood. He swallows and blinks and the threads fade away.

“Mister Stark?” A tall, African American man in a white coat with long limbs and thick rimmed glasses stands at the entrance to the waiting room.

“Yes?” He stands and his legs feels as if they’re not there at all.

“You can see him now,” the doctor says.

“He’s okay?” Pepper asks because his mouth feels like there’s glue in it and he can’t speak.

“Yes, Mister Barnes will recover, it’ll be a slow process, but he will recover.” The man adjusts his glasses and says, “If it wasn’t for the serum, he’d be dead. He’s lucky, the bullets passed right through, a clean shot. If they’d lodged in his body it would have been a more painful surgery.”

Tony cringes and wants to punch the doctor. He fucking knows this already, but every god damned doctor thinks Bucky is some kind of miracle or lab rat, they all want to experiment on him one way or another under the guise of medical care. Through clenched teeth, he says, “I’d just like to see him.”

The doctor frowns as if he expects Tony to quiz him more on the state of Captain America. A completely foolish but predictable response from the medical establishment. Now, that SHIELD is being dismantled from the inside out, he needed to seriously consider a medical facility just for the Avengers in the Tower. Using the city’s hospital and medical services was subpar at best.

“Surely,” the doctor says and waves for Tony to follow.

He leads them down the crowded corridor with carts and supplies and people milling about. There’s a guard at the door for which Tony is thankful. The doctor opens the door, ushers them in, and tells them not to stay long, that the Captain needs his sleep.

Pepper stands near the door, not approaching the bed. She squeezes Tony’s hand, giving him strength. For so long she has provided strength and foundation when he had none. He’s always surprised at what a bedrock she has been in his life. He enters the dim circle of light around Bucky’s bed. It glows against his slightly dusky skin, the bruises of illness and injury stain his eyes, his face though still looks perfect. Tony knows he’ll be up and walking before anything that is reasonable, knows that Bucky will survive and fight again. But seeing him, hooked to machines that count his heart beat like an inconsequential tick of the clock, stabs deep inside of him.

Reaching, he slips his hand into Bucky’s lax hand. He holds it, and whispers, “Buck? Buck?” When he doesn’t respond, Tony tries again. “Captain? Captain, your fans are waiting for you, Captain America?” He says it in a sing song rhythm to lift him from his slumber, to just see his eyes, those fire light blue eyes. “Captain?”

There’s a flicker, light and almost imperceptible.

“There you go, come on now, Capsicle, wakey wakey.”

Bucky moves, a slight shift of his shoulders, groans and opens his eyes. He narrows his focus on Tony, grimaces and looks down at the hand holding his left hand. But then Tony realizes he’s not looking at Tony’s hand at all. He’s looking at his own.

“Bucky?”

Bucky picks up his hand and stares at it, comparing it to his right. Tony can’t imagine what he sees, why he’s so perplexed.

“Cap?”

He glances at Tony and then looks at Pepper. Furrowing his brows he struggles to sit up. Tony presses a hand on his uninjured shoulder. “Ah, no, down boy, even Captain America shouldn’t get up after being shot.”

“What?” Bucky says and blinks several times as if trying to reboot his brain.

“There you go,” Tony says and offers him a smile. He knows it isn’t his best, not the playful almost decadent smile he tends to share with Bucky, they have a relationship spiced with sarcasm, brawls, and wit. Part of what they play with happens to be their mutual sexuality with others. No, this smile is soft and kind, nearly sweet in its aspect.

Bucky narrows his eyes as he studies Tony. “You look different.”

“Well, you look kind of crappy, Cap. Not your best day.”

“Why? Why do you keep calling me that?” Bucky says and Pepper gasps at his words. She takes a step forward but Tony holds up his hand to halt her.

“What do you mean?”

“Captain?” Bucky scans the room. “Where? Where is this? What’s going on?”

“You’re in the hospital, Buck, you were shot. The Winter Soldier tried to assassinate you,” Tony says and watches as some shade crosses Bucky’s face. It hangs over him like a ghost, like a phantom of yesterday, half remembered nightmares.

“No,” Bucky says. “Why are you doing this? I’m not. No, you’re wrong.”

“Should I call the doctor?” Pepper says and moves to the door.

Tony glances over his shoulder but shakes his head and turns back to Bucky. “Bucky, what’s going on, why don’t you tell me?”

“I’m not, I’m not sure.” He peers at the equipment, at the walls, at the window. “I don’t recognize this, this isn’t the room, the treatment room.”

“Treatment room?” Tony says and he tries to be patient, but something hard like a fist balls up in his belly and hurts. “What treatment room?”

“Why did you call me, Captain?” Bucky shakes his head. “Something’s wrong.”

“I called you Captain because that’s who you are, Bucky,” Tony says and the fist inside of him wraps around his windpipe and clenches, constricting the airway.

“Captain?”

“Yes,” Pepper says from across the room in her most soothing voice and he quietly thanks her for it, because he’s about to go ballistic from the grip of fear inside of him. “You’re Captain America.”

Bucky shakes his head. “No, no, I’m not. Steve Rogers is Captain America. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know what you’re playing at but I am not Captain America.”

Tony opens his mouth to retort as Pepper states she’s getting the doctor. At that moment, Tony looks down and he sees the threads – like ephemeral whispers stream through his fingers. One thread leads to Bucky bright and shining like fire and light and blood. The other, connected to the first yet different, glows luminous and golden through his fingers. Both tug and pull at him. At that moment, he knows something is desperately wrong.

James Buchanan Barnes is Captain America.

It’s always been that way.

But now, Tony knows, it never was.

*oOo*

The spun webs are undone. The threads of time and life are tattered and torn. Uror frowns upon the face of the pale waters of the well. As her duty, as one of the Norns, the one sister who cares for the fates and happenings of those weak creatures from Midgard, she takes pride in her work. Her sisters may find pride in their own works, but it streams into hers. Above all else if the threads of life splinter and fray, the roots and branches of Yggdrasil rot.

"Oh Sister-Wise," a voice from the doom calls out.

She ignores its insistence, its insolence, she must focus on the task, and figure out how the threads she so diligently and lovely wove into a new knot all those years ago would unravel.

The mists about the well, through the gnarled roots of Yggdrasil swirl and color to the darkest of purples. She knows who beckons her, who pecks and nags her. It can only be her sister, one of her sisters. They are jealous, thrive on their hatred of her. They'll laugh and mock her failure.
"Oh Sister-Wise." She appears as the mist drops away like cascades of water from her image. "You have much to answer and little to hope. You must undo what has been done."

"You have no idea about what you speak, you are more than a mild idiot," she replies but concentrates on the skein. How did it happen? How is it happening? She tried before to save the splicing of the threads. "You know how crucial these threads, these threads of life, are. You may laugh as much as you want, but if these threads break down the tree itself-."

"Rots and dies," the younger sister says with a hand thrown to her brow and a swoon. "We've heard this all before."

Uror looks at the shreds of life in her hands, the threads glisten gold and red, with blues and blacks like bruises throughout the lines. Glancing up she sees her last sister has been joined. “Sister-love, take Sister-dear and teach her a lesson.”

Veroandi smirks and Skuld only huffs like the child she sometimes is, like the old nag she likes to portray. They slink closer to examines the threads that tangle and knot in Uror’s hands.

Skuld tisks and shakes her head. “You’ve made a mess of it, Sister-wise, quite a mess. I told you not to touch the threads and now look? You should just let me eat them.”

Instead of answering her Uror looks to their middle sister, Veroandi and waits. Sister-love circles her as she considers the ball of tangles. She steps over the gnarls and brambles of the tree. Her long dark hair sparkles with sapphire crystals to match the frost bitten cold of her Jotunheim face.

“Sister-dear is quite right , you know.”

Uror expected more, but settles for less. It is part of their lessons to accept these weaknesses amongst each other. “You may live to regret what you did to the Good Man.”

The man appears – or a shade of him from times past. He’s on his knees, bound with rags and ropes, but not truly. In the days Uror abducted him from the life cycle of Earth, she used the incantations have Yggdrasil itself to imprison him. She stole him from Midgard when she realized the lines of fate bisected through him.

“Oh,” Sister-dear, Skuld, whines. “You should have just let me have him. I could have played with him for decades.”

“That wasn’t an option,” Uror replies.

“A better option than what has become of him.”

“She may be right, Sister-Wise,” Veroandi says.

“No, she is not right,” Uror says. “We, as the Norns, as the keepers of the sacred tree of life, we have only one duty, and that is to the tree. Nourishing the tree with the life lines, the threads of the lives of man, is our only course. Would you have his knotted line strangle the tree? Rot it from the inner core?”

“And what of now? He remembers as he is apt to do,” Skuld says and licks her lips. The phantom of days past reincarnates itself again in front of her, a man bound by the gnarled roots of the oldest tree.

“He is so pretty with his golden hair, his broad chest,” Veroandi says and leans down to study the bound figure. “Sister-wise, we could have had such fun with him.”

Uror rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “If you recall, we had fun with him. We asked him questions, made him answer.”

“Answer?” Skuld asks and prances about the shaded glen near the base of the roots to the tree of life. “I can’t remember.”

“You can’t remember anything, you nitwit,” Uror says and frowns. “You know our duty.”
Skuld lifts her hand and waves it at the image of the man. It animates and replays the days of history. He shifts in his bounds and there’s new blood on his jaw.

“Don’t, Sister-dear,” Uror warns.

“Oh I think we should,” Skuld throws the spell and the ghost comes to life.

“What do you want with me?” the Good Man says.

Another of her, of Uror appears, but it is only a memory, a faint echo of what once was. “You have ruined the lines of time.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Surely, you know what you’ve brought upon the lines, surely you know that what has happened to you changes the course, the epic of the weaving, causes the lines to knot and fray.”

He remains silent, his blue eyes studying her, his full lips partially opened as if to speak. Her memory leans over him and unbuckles the helmet to pull it off. Her hand slips under his jaw, lifting up his chin. His hands are tied with branches of Yggdrasil, like distorted twisted bindings. Skuld appears in the vision.

“Come let me play with the good Captain. I can do nasty things, things that will taint him and hide him away for life times to come.”

Uror growls at her and the ghost fades away in the memory. Her other self circles the good Captain. “Tell me Captain, what would you do to save your friend?”

“My friend?”

“Your childhood friend, he will fall to his death or so it would seem, what would you do to save him, Captain Rogers?”

“I would give my life for his.”

“Are you so sure?”

“Why are you asking me this?” Captain Rogers asks as he twists and fights against the bindings. “Let me go – it happened seventy years ago.”

“But a blink of the eye,” Veroandi says and sighs as she watches the two of them play out the memory.

“Who are you? Why did you bring me here? My friends, Tony, needs my help.”

“And this Tony, what does he mean to you?” Uror says.

“He means more to me than life,” the Captain says.

“Your friend, you would give your life over for, and this man, this love of yours, Tony, means more to you than life,” Uror says as the shade examines the weavings in her hands. “So let it be done.”

The good Captain screams. Uror, now, closes her eyes because seeing it again only serves to shove daggers of pain skewered through her heart.

“Don’t have the stomach for what you’ve done, Sister-Wise,” Skuld mocks and Uror opens her eyes to glimpse the suffering of the good Captain, the Good Man. It had to be done, and she did it for her love of the Realm, for all that exists.

As he is transformed, as all of his dreams and hopes are stripped away, he becomes nothing more than a figment of before, a husk to his loves, and his life is given over to others.

As Captain Rogers becomes dust to the fabric of time and Uror reweaves his story into a lie.
With a flick of her wrist, Uror washes the memory away. Ignoring the whining complaints of her younger sister, Uror considers the knots in her hands. “Just look at all that fine work.”

“You mean the fine suffering,” Skuld whispers and her blue metal skin seems to glint in the light of a thousand moons. “You enjoyed his suffering.”

Uror looks up, meets eyes with Veroandi as she lightly licks her lips. There is nothing to deny, part of their charge does engage a selfish part of her needs. “We all enjoyed his suffering as we still do today.”

“The tree survives, why do you worry?” Veroandi comes to her side and studies the skeins. She presses her blue black lips together and clicks a few times. “That is not the way it should be.”

“Don’t I know it,” Uror says. “Something is remiss, something jarred them, brought them together again.”

“And it means?” Skuld sidles up to her, all of the playful, idiotic banter somehow shed away.

“It means all our hard work to save the tree is lost. The Good Man was key, and-.”

“We’ve mucked it up, haven’t we?” Skuld says without malice, but with a kind of sad whimper. “We need to fix it.”

“Yet how?” Veroandi says and it is more as if she wonders out loud to her other thirds.

“Simple, he must suffer again.”

“You’ve taken his life away, given it to others already – how else can he suffer?” Skuld asks, because she is young and foolish in her heart, still.

“He must suffer plainly and simply. He must suffer the truth.”

“You mean to undo it then?” Veroandi says and her eyes glimmer like sharp edged sapphires in the night.

“I mean to undo them.”

“The world will suffer.”

“Midgard will suffer, they have only to do the right thing to save it,” Uror says and she starts the new weaving. “Undo them for one purpose.”

“Which is?” Skuld watches as Uror’s hands fly over the invisible loom of lives.

“To die.”

*oOo*

The Asset strides toward the building, hearing only echoes in his head. He doesn’t listen to the insistent buzz of the city. The clamor and clatter of life about him does not pique his interest. It never has. His mind focuses only on the mission. His mission.

It is the first time he has his own mission. Described and decided upon by himself. He knows he’s gone rogue, he knows that his handlers are searching for him. But as the Asset it will take them more than a little while to find him. They trained him well.

He moves forward, jostling people in the crowded city, trying not to allow his metal arm to whine and creak with noises. He pushes forward, listening to the echoes, the reverberations in his head. He sees the overlay of two lives, paired together, separated and different, yet similar.
Looking down at his enhanced body, at his large limbs, his strong muscles, he doesn’t recognize any of it. He shouldn’t be this – he was weak – once.

He knows this, but he doesn’t. None of it seems real, just fashioned out of a dream. He searches the cityscape and continues toward his destination, ignoring people as he shoves past them. He doesn’t stop for cars or trucks. At one point, he has to stop a car with his metal hand, forcing it to skid against the pavement as he stands his ground. He looks at the man behind the steering wheel. Even as a curse leaves the man lips, just the Asset’s eyes on him mutes him.

The Asset lifts a lip in snarl and marches toward the curb, people are staring, looking at him. It never bothers him, it shouldn’t. They are people – he is not. His function is clear and known and he has a mission.

He fears no one, because he is no one. He does not have these memories trickling into his consciousness. He tells himself these lies so that he can quiet the insistent echoes. They are like babes crying out for their dead mothers. He shuns them with a veracity and viciousness he holds inside when he kills. He bathes in it.

But they continue, crying out like the phantoms looking for their graves. There is only one way to silence them – to stop seeing the other images, of a life lost and gone, and never was. He knows it never was because these images are lies.

He was never a scrawny beast, he was never the one selected for a special project to save him. He has only been part of the project to become the Asset to kill. He is a tool. He does not want to face the fact he might not be a tool.

He is an instrument of dead and the dead do not speak. This is why he loves the dead, and hates the living. He does not have to hear the spoken words of truth, of what could have been.
The images lie, and inveigle to fool him, to lead him astray from his mission. He wants his handlers to come and retrieve him, but no one is there for him. He waited and wanted and no one came. Something is wrong.

He keeps walking through the streets letting the people move aside as they see the scorn on his face. He has to keep moving, if he doesn’t keep moving the ghosts of another life will catch up with him. They cannot catch up, if they catch up, what will happen to him?

Will he still be the Asset?

Will he be less?

Or worse yet, will he be more?

He shivers and it feels too human to be him. He is not human, but an automaton, asked and told what to do. The machine cleans his brain of any worrying thoughts, he needs the machine. Maybe when he gets to the building they will have something like the machine, it can clamp around his head and, with its screeching hum, wipe away the doubts and pain scraping at his neurons now.

He feels human.

He hates it.

He doesn’t want these memories, he hasn’t asked for them. Where did they come from but from the man.

“I knew him,” he mumbles and curses deep in his gut. The images assault him then like hundreds of soldier rising out of their foxholes. He staggers and finds his way into an alley as he bashes his head against the cold brick of the building. He wants the images out. He wants the memories gone.

But they are there, leaking out all over him as if he’s bleeding out. He sees a shield in his hand, he sees the spangled uniform he so loved to wear. He sees his childhood friend fall from the train. None of these are real memories, they are like parasites devouring his mission, his brain. Only humans have memories. He is only the Asset. He is not human.

Yet, when he tries to call up his own memories he fails. It is part of the process to make him the Asset – to erase everything he ever was and ever will be. His one focal point is to his mission, but he is at a loss right now. He has no mission, and no one recalled him.

He stumbles against the brick of the building, feeling the throbbing ache in his head when he bashes it against the wall. It should stop it, force the unbidden images from crowding his mind. They are worse than the streets, worse than the machine. He doesn’t want this.
“Go, go, go,” he says and crumples to his knees.

From within the distance, inside the shadowed recesses he hears a woman’s voice. The tones corrupt and break. Turning, he looks into the dark corner of the alley and he sees the three women, but they are not women – not at all. They stand there, watching him as gnarled branches twist and curl around them.

He remembers them.

He recalls his other life, his dream life.

Captain Rogers.

They once called him, before he became the Asset. One of the old hags walks over to him, trailing long tendrils of branches in her slithering metal hair. She offers a hand to him and he stares at the long blue fingers, the blood red nails. He does not take it.

You must die for the tree of life to live.

She never speaks a word but he hears this in his head. “Who am I?”

“You are what we made you to be,” the hag says. “You are what you needed to be. Your tangled yarns of threads very nearly strangled the tree. But it was fixed when you exchanged your life for his, when you became-.”

Our Asset another voice says in his head.

The hag next to him growls at the two she left behind in the shadows. “Shush, you idiots. He must go and kill the others. Then he will kill himself and all will be right.”

“Should have done, before.”

“He has been a good Asset.”

“The other was better, tastier too.”

“It could not be helped, he had to be the Asset so that our needs were met.”

“Oh, not only our needs, Sister-Wise.”

“Be quiet, you idiot. The other does not need to know,” the hag next to him says. “Now Asset, now nameless one, go and do your duty. Stop this foolishness. Go and kill them. It is your mission. When you are done, take a knife to your throat and slice it clean. Do you understand?”

He only nods.

After, he thinks it might have been an allusion, since his head is bloody and he staggers to his feet with a dizzy, thick feeling overwhelming him. He shuffles to the street and looks out at the darkening clouds, the city at twilight. He pays little heed to it, but puts one booted foot forward and then the next.

He thinks about how the knife will feel going into their throats, and does not cringe. What startles him the most, though, is how he relishes the thought of it slitting open his own throat, how he longs for the silent roar it will bring.

He heads toward the building with singular purpose.

*oOo*

Times are changed. There had been a time, not long ago that he wouldn’t pour himself a drink, when he would seek out Bucky and hold onto his sanity through the strength of will that comes from knowing he is loved. But now, he sees the strands of a different time, and Tony cannot fathom what it means.

He might be going crazy.

He considers whether this is anything new as he sips his glass of Scotch and follows the old pathway again toward functional alcoholism. His head throbs, it has been days since Bucky left the hospital, since they moved back to New York City. His head feels like a major expansion of the frontal lobe is eminent – leading to an explosion of brain and blood all over his penthouse apartment.

He must be crazy.

“JARVIS?

“Yes sir?”

“Am I crazy?”

“It depends on the definition, sir. If we use the newest version of the DSM-5 then your current status might qualify since you’ve noted new memories that have no basis in reality.”

“Well, isn’t that just wonderful,” Tony says and places the cool glass next to his temple. “Why now? I thought I had the whole thing under control, since New York?”

“The stress from the assassination attempt on Captain America?”

“Possibly? Maybe?” He knows that is not right at all. He examines his hands and sees the threads woven through his fingers – threads that are not really there. He can see them with the periphery of his vision. But in reality, there’s nothing there. “JARVIS, man, look up soul bonding, soul mates, soul threads. Anything like that.”

“Sir?”

“Just look it up. I need to know.”

“I am concerned, sir.”

“Noted.”

“I have pulled up 6,350,000 results and narrowed it down to the most salient – which would be two.”

“Two?” Tony read stories about soul mates and bonding when he was in college and fucking his brains out with every one that wiggled his ass in Tony’s general direction. He settles into a chair and says, “Hit me up.”

The stream of data is anything but useful. Most of it is just new age hippie crap about finding your one true love. He spends a great deal of time rolling his eyes and huffing at the information. None of it makes much sense.

After about an hour of useless web surfing since he asked JARVIS to bring on the over six million hits, Bucky walks into the holographic display he has spread out over the workshop. His hands are stuffed deep in his pockets, his hair a mess, and his eyes look haunted. Since the incident, the attempt on his life, they haven’t so much as kissed.

He sweeps away the holographic images and decides to take matters into his own hands, they have been walking around like strangers to one another for too long. Crossing the room, Tony offers a hand to Bucky, and, though hesitant, Bucky accepts it.

“What say we take a few days? We could go to the islands, get nasty drunk, have insanely hot sex for a month.”

Bucky looks down and that tendril of hair that always falls out of place wiggles free again. “I thought you said a few days.”

“Well, time is fluid. Didn’t you ever talk to Richards about it?”

“I try to stay away from that man, he makes me nervous.”

Tony leads Bucky to the stairs, logging out of the workshop and following the staircase upward to the penthouse main floor. He wants things to get back to normal, he wants to see Bucky’s carefree attitude, not this dour person. He tries to remember what Pepper told him, give it time, the man’s just been shot several times by some ghost of an assassin.

“Feeling better?” Tony says and cringes. Health and weather the two topics of the awkward conversation.

When they enter the main penthouse floor, Bucky slips his hand free – it isn’t subtle but it is gentle. “Better, yeah, I suppose. I’m trying to make sense of it.” He scrubs at his day old beard, which is all kinds of weird because since when did Captain America like the scruffy look?

Tony leads him into the kitchen, and sets about making some hot chocolate. It might do some good. He doesn’t know, he’s all at loose ends since the attempt. Maybe that’s it, maybe they just both feel out of it because of the attempt on Bucky’s life. “We really do need to get out of Dodge.” He pulls out the little cups and slips it into the port for the machine.

“Maybe, I just, I think we need to do something about it.”

He’s never heard Captain America so at odds with himself, as if he’s uncomfortable in his own skin. “This threw us for a loop. With everything that’s happened at SHIELD, the Avengers being the first line of defense now, well, the only line of defense.”

“SHIELD will get itself back together,” Bucky says and it’s the first time he’s sounded like Captain America since the assassination attempt. “Hydra won’t have the last word.”

“You did good, exposing them.”

“Well, everyone helped.” Bucky shrugs and there’s a little of his old charm seeping through as if the bits and pieces that had been shattered are slowly gluing themselves back together again.

“Good thing too, considering,” Tony says. “Us against the world, right?” He places the mug with tiny marshmallows on the table and says, “Tada!”

Bucky smiles and it is all kinds of charming. “Seriously, Tony, you expect to fix things with hot chocolate?”

“I could do worse, I could offer you one of my infamous omelets.”

Those words sink in and they both gaze at one another, the weight of the words heavy and suffocating in the room.

“Oh I just-.”

Bucky reaches out and grasps Tony’s arm. “No, we gotta do this, you know we do.”

“What we have to do is get our bags packed because we are going to the islands. JARVIS-.”

“No,” Bucky states and his fingers tangle in Tony’s and, for a second, it appears again.

Tony gasps and yanks his hand away from the red thread that glistens with golden and blue fibers. Even as he pulls away, he can still see the threads leaking out of his hand to Bucky’s fingers like webbing.

“Shit,” Tony says and Bucky remains mesmerized by it. But he’s not staring at the links of threads that draw them together but the dangling part of the thread. It disappears into some odd ether, but the colors throb in red, like the thread is a beating artery of life.

“Tony?” Bucky looks up and waits for some explanation.

“Voodoo, or magic, not my schtick.” Tony raises a shoulder in confusion. “I think we have to talk with Thor.”

“Ya think?” Bucky says but still marvels at the threads. “What do you suppose it means that there’s a part of the thread that disappears like that?”

“I don’t even know what the hell the thread is,” Tony says as he tries to shake it off. Nothing works, it isn’t glued on, but somehow it is permanent. “Let alone why it has a tail end of it.”
Bucky lifts his hand and the string follows him, he quirks a smile at it. “Kind of weird.”

“Kind of? Maybe we’ve been cursed or something?”

“Or something,” Bucky says and then slumps back in his chair. He closes his eyes and says, “It’s weird, it kind of makes me feel like home.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Tony doesn’t know if he should be offended by the statement, because, shit, if Bucky isn’t right. It is almost as if the thread and its bleeding end feels right, feels balanced as if their relationship had been off kilter before. “This doesn’t make any sense-.”

“Sir, there is a disturbance in the main lobby of the Avengers’ Tower.”

“What kind? More fans?”

“No, sir. The identified assassin who attempted to take Captain Barnes’ life entered the building and the guards have engaged him.”

“What the fuck,” Tony says and calls up the camera feed on the screen above the table nook in the kitchen

Three guards circle the assassin, but he lies on the floor with two more guards on top of him. One of the guards as a gun to the assassin’s head while the man has his hands folded behind his head and his face shoved into the floor.

Bucky closes the distance between them and stares at the feed. “JARVIS, can you bring it closer. Can I get a clear view of his face?”

Even as JARVIS follows the request, Tony notices the threads between them pulse a new beat and it aches like a pain seeded deep in his core. “What the hell?”

Bucky leans in closer to the screen and blinks several times. “It can’t. No. St-Steve?”

“What?”

As soon as Bucky says the name the thread between them, the thread fading off into space bleeds liquid fibers, like plasma drips. But the flow of it disappears never to hit the floor.

“Don’t let them hurt him, no, don’t let them hurt him,” Bucky says and races to the door. As he does the thread thins and dissipates.

“What are you talking-?”

Bucky doesn’t listen, he’s in the elevator, yelling for JARVIS to take him to the lobby.

“Buck, what the hell?” Tony rushes and just slips into the doors before they close. “Thanks J-man for the lack of save there.”

“Just testing your reflexes, sir.”

“Right, we know who your favorite is.” Tony dismisses it and turns to the man who has been the center of his life for little over a year. They’ve fought together, side by side as Iron Man and Captain America. They’ve fought against one another as Tony and Bucky. They’ve wrestled out dreams and agonized over strategies. They’ve become the leaders of the Avengers, but what’s more they have fallen and loved one another.

“Tell me what’s going on, Buck?”

Bucky slashes the air with his hand and says, “I have to, I have to see first.”

“What? What is going on?”

Bucky shakes his head and doesn’t meet Tony’s eyes. By the time the doors open, Tony feels like the chasm between them, the gap drilled through with a bullet hole to Bucky’s chest, opens further.

“What’s going on?” Tony murmurs as the doors to the elevator open and Bucky strides out. He follows with a sense of dread, but also with a ping of hope down deep inside that he cannot identify its source.

The guards have hoisted the assassin to his feet. His arms, one metal, behind his back, his face shadowed by strands of lank hair. One of the guards shoves him in the back and he stumbles but doesn’t fall. Bucky joins them, standing there, frozen like he’s seeing a ghost.

“Steve?” His voice is small and hollow.

“Steve?” Tony says and looks to the man with his greasy hair, his lowered eyes.

“Steve, look at me.”

The man brings his eyes up and, for the first time, Tony gets a clear view of the man who tried to kill Bucky. His eyes are dead, his face a neutral stone.

When Bucky reaches out to touch the man, Tony sees the barest of threads appear, the thread, the frayed portion of it. Tony hisses and slaps Bucky’s hand down.

“What the hell?”

“This man tried to kill you,” Tony says.

“He’s my friend,” Bucky says and his expression is lost, eaten, stolen by time.

“He’s not, that’s not possible.” Tony studies the face – but it is too close to the photos, the old photos of Steve Rogers. Once a friend of Bucky’s, lost of the side of train in the middle of the mountains. None of it makes sense. “He has to be some kind of clone or something.”

“He’s not, Zola experimented on him before-“ Bucky says and puts a hand up to his eyes. “Zola experimented on me.”

“No,” Tony says and places a hand on Bucky’s arm. “That wasn’t you.” He’s trying to see Bucky’s face, read his expression. Bucky’s gaze is only for Steve.

Tony has no other choice, he has to prove Bucky wrong. “You, what’s your name?”

The assassin glances at Tony and there’s something recognizable in his eyes, as if he longs for Tony, yearns for something he cannot touch out of a dream. His eyes shutter and he’s blank again.

“Name, soldier,” Tony commands, hoping it works as one of the guards asks if they should call in the police or the FBI. Tony waves him off.

“They-.”

Everyone stops. He thinks Bucky might have stopped breathing when the man speaks.

“They call me,” the man pauses. “They call me the Asset.”

Bucky reaches out to touch the man’s face; but he backs up into the group of guards surrounding him. Bucky waits, with his hand still outstretched. The man, the man who tried to assassinate Bucky, allows the touch. It is tender, reminiscent of the times Bucky has soothed a hand over Tony’s jaw line.

He leaves it there, touching the square of his jaw, the high bone of his cheek. He traces circles with his thumb as he gazes into the Winter Soldier’s eyes.

“Steve?” His voice is so plaintive, so earnest it breaks Tony until he steps up to them and catches Bucky’s other hand in his own. When he does, when the three of them are linked the world shifts, literally, moves.

A shudder from beneath them groans through the building and the whole of it, vibrates from its foundation. The guards all topple over but they stand their ground, linked together like pillars against the storm.

A roar screams out like the warning of an oncoming locomotive. Tony searches the lobby, sees the world outside has gone deathly black, and the guards scrambled away. Grabbing for Bucky, he tugs him toward the safety of the elevator. Without stopping, Bucky grasps the Winter Soldier’s arm and drags him along for the ride.

A swirl of wind hits Tony and he braces against it, feeling the cold, almost frigid air stream through and he’s not sure what the hell is going on. He calls out for JARVIS but hears nothing. They have to get to safe shelter, find out what the hell is going on.

He hauls them to the stairwell, since the elevators seem like a not so good idea at the moment. He wonders if there’s some kind of alien invasion, some earthquake as the ground rumbles and boils under them.

As he pulls Bucky along, the man Bucky insists is Steve – and damned if Tony doesn’t think he looks an awful lot like a man who died falling off the side of a speeding train in 1945 – stumbles along after them, his arms still pinned behind his back and his eyes glossy and oddly lost.

Just as they enter the parking garage the quakes around them go silent, the air thickens and the world around them quiets. “What the hell is going on?” Tony says and he releases Bucky’s hand.

“Tony,” Bucky says and spun around his fingers to Tony’s own hand and then back to the assassin’s hand tied behind his back the thread appears.

“Um, okay maybe we shouldn’t touch again until we figure out what the hell is happening.” Tony shoves his hands in his jeans pockets. Their visitor skirts looking at either of them, his eyes furtive and jittery.

“JARVIS, man, tell me what’s happening?”

“News channels report that New York City has experienced a seismic event on the order of 5.8 on the Richter scale.”

“Well, that’s kind of predictable but completely wrong,” Tony says. “JARVIS is it safe to go back up to the penthouse?”

“The Tower has not sustained any major damage. Minor damage includes some valuable items fallen to the floor, some broken plates -.”

“Everything else is a okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, then, that allows us to get back up to the penthouse and find out what the hell is happening. I very much doubt we had an earthquake.”

Bucky nods at this assessment and then reaches over to lead the doppelganger for Steve Rogers back toward the elevators. Tony hisses between his teeth waiting for the world to collapse around them again. It does not.

“Okay, maybe it only happens if we all touch.” Tony wants to reach out, but he really is against damaging his city, and his home. “Come on, back up to the lab.”

The thing with Steve Rogers’ face glowers at them, but he doesn’t protest, he only follows along as if he’s well trained.

When they ride the elevator to the penthouse-workshop level, Tony gives more than a sidelong glance to Steve Rogers. Catching his eyes, Tony shares a long gaze and, for a moment as the lights shift in the elevator, he sees this man, this assassin, this ghost overlaid on Captain America – as if he had once been Captain America – and now is only his murderer.

The images haunts Tony as the doors to the lift open.

*oOo*

“Nothing you have tried has worked, Sister-Wise,” Skuld says as she lounges next to the trunk of Yggdrasil.

“No, it has not,” Uror says and stares down at the tangled, knotted skein. “I cannot undo it. They have bisected, trisected, and merged. The lines have become one.”

“The fabric will not be unwoven?” Veroandi peers over her shoulder. “This may tear apart the time and fate of all. The tree will rot, we have failed.”

“Do not be so dramatic, we are the Norns. We will call forth the changes that need to be changed,” Skuld says. “As the All Father has asked us to do for all time.”

“Then the only way to do it, it will be done.” Uror tosses the skein into the small piles of sticks she’s gathered from the tree of life. “Set it on fire and watch them burn.”

“As you wish, Sister-Wise,” Skuld says.

*oOo*
An uneasy détente settles over the workshop as Tony and Bucky sit on one side of the room and the Winter Soldier on the other. Tony insisted that they lock him to the harness that usually holds any of the armor he’s working on in place. The brackets and reinforced steel arms are designed to withstand repulsor blasts and hold in place the Iron Man armor. He’s not certain about the metal arm on the Winter Soldier, but he’s not taking any chances.

“What the hell was that?” Bucky says and eyes Tony.

Sometimes, Tony thinks that Bucky relies too heavily on his analysis of situations. Bucky’s strengths lie in the super soldier serum, the fact he’s brash and risk driven, and that he’s not afraid of anything. He’s definitely not a strategist or a planner.

“I don’t know, to tell you the truth,” Tony says. “It must have something to do with this.” Tony lifts up his hand and as he waves it, the slight gestures causes the light to hit the strands illuminating it again.

“And do we have any idea what the hell this is?”

“Magic,” Tony says and scrubs his fingers through his hair. “This is god damned magic, that’s what it is.”

“We need to call Thor in,” Bucky says and scratches as his scruff. The color has returned to his face and he looks worlds better than he did only hours ago.

“What do we do with him, in the meantime,” Tony says. “Thor’s over in England with Jane. I’m not certain I can get him here that fast.”

Bucky stands up and shuffles over to the staging area where Tony normally works on and repairs the suits. The Winter Soldier kneels, his arms bound behind his back and the long metal arms from the Iron Man staging station clamps around his upper arms. The Winter Soldier fails to react to Bucky’s approach, his eyes dead like glass and muck.

Bucky peers over his shoulder at Tony and furrows his brow. “Stop doing that.”

“What?” Tony opens his hands in surrender.

“Stop, stop thinking of him as an assassin. He’s a victim, whatever they did to Steve-.”

“He’s not Steve.”

“He is,” Bucky says and bends down to study the stone like sculpture of a man kneeling at his feet. “He’s Steve Rogers. That is his name.”

“He’s a cold bloodied killer, that’s all.” Even as Tony states the words, he knows he’s wrong. The man before him is a victim, a lost soul and he sees for a moment a time when he might have been a friend of this man.

“No,” Bucky says.

“No,” Tony concedes. “Maybe, I don’t know. What the hell is going on here?”

Bucky ignores his question and instead turns back to the stoic man. “Steve?”

The man doesn’t react, he only stares into the middle distance. Tony steps up beside Bucky and places a hand on his chest.

“Do you remember me?” Bucky says.

Looking up, he squints at Bucky as if he’s looking into the sun. After a few moments, he jerks against the braces holding him and both Tony and Bucky jump back. He heaves in a breath and forces himself to calm. “Mission, they told me you’re my mission.”

“Hydra,” Bucky says with a hiss.

“Fury and Coulson are working on it,” Tony says and rubs at his beard. “They’re rooting them out, we need to stay focused here.”

“Can we? Considering,” Bucky says and points to their prisoner. “Maybe we should call in SHIELD.”

Tony waves his hand and the trails of the threads reappear. “Do you really want to do that? Fury and Hill reported that the place is half-Hydra at least. You did good revealing them, Buck, but now we have to focus on this. They have to clean their own house.”

Bucky frowns and shakes his head. “You’re right. They’ll come down on him with an iron fist. I don’t think he needs that, right now.”

Walking over to the kneeling figure, Tony studies the man. He is a victim, Bucky is right on that account. He doesn’t even have a name, an identity, except as a killing machine. Without thought, Tony reaches out to the man, as if to touch his face. The line, the thread reappears strong and healthy, beating red between his fingers and disappearing in a haze within the tangles of dirty hair of the Winter Soldier.

The man startles at the sight of it, and pants heavy breathes but seems to quiet as Tony’s hand touches briefly not on his face, but on his shoulder. Once there, Tony sees it – the after images of a life not lived. He sees the man transformed from this empty shell death machine to a heroic, iconic figure. He remembers his father telling him about the wonders of Steve Rogers, of first idolizing him, then hating him, then loving him.

Snatching his hand away, he stumbles back and covers his face with both hands. Bucky helps him not fall flat on his ass and says, “What? You saw it, didn’t you? You saw it?”

He blinks a few times to wipe away the cobwebs in his vision. “I saw something. I fucking hate magic.” He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, and then takes them away still seeing whited out stars. “JARVIS, baby, get me Thor on the damned phone.”

“I have taken the liberty to connect with him already, sir.”

“Thor? You son of a bitch, tell me Loki is still dead?”

Thor appears before them, the man bound in his laboratory jolts again at the image of the holograph of the demi-god. It is only a partial holograph because to this day the demi-god or alien or whatever the hell he is can’t seem to get the functions correct on his new StarkPhone.

“You hailed me, Master Tony?” Thor says. “And may I say my sweet mother was not a bitch.”

“Yeah, we have some magic trouble here. Can you get here?” Tony asks with an eye roll. He keeps forgetting to make sure he cleans up his language around Thor.

“Magic, and you think it might be related to my brother? I am not certain how this might be since he has been dead all these many months,” Thor says but grimaces as he considers the problem.

He’s not in Thor, god of thunder dress but instead he wears a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. The gray hoodie stretches over his broad chest misshaping the zipper.

“Well, we have something very peculiar happening here and we need for you to pop over,” Tony says. “We really need you here.”

Jane’s head suddenly appears next to Thor’s partial image. She must be standing behind him, or sitting behind him. Tony isn’t sure which it is. “What’s up?”

“We caught the Winter Soldier,” Bucky says.

“Wow, really? How’d that happen?” Jane disappears for a minute and then comes back into view. “Darcy said there was an earthquake in New York today, was that you?”

“You could say so,” Tony says. “We need Thor here, can you part with him for a bit?”

Jane smiles and pecks Thor on the cheek. “He’ll be there in a few.” The line goes dead.

By the time Tony turns around Bucky is sitting down next to their prisoner. His head tilts to the side and he reaches over, offering his open hand to the man. The Winter Soldier doesn’t react, only stares with cold steel blue eyes at Tony’s love. Bucky slides his fingers into their prisoner’s hair, carding it back. The man cringes and grits his teeth in response.

“Be careful, he might bite,” Tony says but does nothing else to stop him. There’s something odd, off, strange about the whole encounter. A deadly assassin allowed a bunch of lowly security guards to bind him, permitted Tony and Bucky with no weapons whatsoever to bring him back and chain him in the workshop.

Bucky watches the man as he turns the hair from his face, as he gently examines the nearly faded green tinged bruises along his temple and jawline. “You were hurt?”

“I didn’t accomplish my mission,” the Winter Soldier says and his eyes skirt up and down, assessing Bucky. “They were not pleased.”

“They?” Bucky says. “Steve, do you remember anything else?”

“Yes, no,” Steve says and clenches his teeth.

Tony walks around the armor staging station and sees his muscles are tight, taut as if he’s holding back his rage at being held. “What do you remember?”

“Them,” the man says and his eyes flicker only for a moment. “They, the pain.”

“Your mission was to kill me?” Bucky says and waits for his reply.

The Winter Soldier licks his lips and shakes his head. “I don’t. Yes, but no. Stop Project Insight.”

“What?” Tony says and shares a look with Bucky. Fury had uncovered the project with Natasha’s and Steve’s help. They’d been able to stop it before the launch. “You were supposed to stop Project Insight?” That doesn’t make any sense, he’s Hydra after all.

The cool blue eyes shift and look at Tony, calculating, evaluating, and Tony knows deep to the hollow of his bones, the man just planned how to escape his bonds, and kill them both with his metal arm. He takes a step back.

A smile that has no warmth on it cracks over their prisoner’s face. “No, not the Asset. Steve Rogers.”

At that point, Bucky staggers back and opens his hands, the strings and knots of the thread curl around his fingers, lace over his hands up his arms like strains of blood. “He’s right, he’s right.”

“What?” Tony looks from one to the other. Bucky distraught, tearing at the threads that never disappear, and the Winter Soldier’s eyes glisten. “What the hell?”

“I’m the Winter Soldier, not him,” Bucky says, ripping at the knots along the thread. Tony feels the tears, tugging at his heart, shredding his breath and lungs, and setting his brain on fire. “This wasn’t the way it’s supposed to be, don’t you see? Don’t you see?”

And in that moment Tony sees it, completely and truly for the first time. Everything they’ve ever known is a lie.

Tony is in love with the wrong man.

The intricate patterns of the threads linking the three of them tell a story in whispered memories. He gasps as he sees the alternate memories, their different histories. “What the hell?”

“And now you know,” a voice says from behind them.

He whips around to see three women, glittering blue and gigantic standing in the center of his workshop.

“Who the hell are you?”

“We are here to fix your destiny, we are here to end you, all.”

*oOo*
When the witches arrive, everything falls into place as if his mind has been a jumble of jigsaw puzzle pieces for so many years, for the whole of his life. The memories flood back in wash as if a dam broke and he’s plunged into the undertow with the force of it. As he drowns in the reality of his once life, as history rewrites itself upon his shredded soul, the Asset knows something, understands something. It breaks him.

He knows his name.

Steven Grant Rogers.

Once Captain America.

Now nothing more than an Asset, a killer, a murderer, an assassin. Arm of Hydra, intent on obliterating free thought, ideas, differences. It shoots straight through him, how could he? Why would he?

And then he knows, he comprehends on a gut level, in the ache of his bones, he did this to save them. He looks to Tony and Bucky. He knows them, they are his link, his issue, his soul, his thread of life – both of them are his family.

The Norns had invaded his dreams, had come to him while defenseless and asked him for a sacrifice to save the tree of life.

He gave them all that he could, he offered them his life in order to save Bucky, in order to spare Tony.

In that moment as it overwhelms him as a storm battering the ragged shores, he professes to do it all again.

“Take me,” he cries out. “I am the one you needed, the one you wanted.”

“What the hell?” Bucky says and surges forward in a blur of motion, but he’s thrown backward to slam against the wall of the laboratory.

The Norns sneer at him as he lies in a crumpled heap, Tony holds his hands and scans the room. “Hey, hey, now, come on. Not a big fan of magic here, but that, that is one interesting move you got going there. And the blue glittery skin, could become a fad, you never know.”

“You quip, and quibble and test and scribble, like little rats,” one of the sisters says.

“Skuld, be silent,” the eldest one says.

“Oh, Uror, you don’t want me to play with my food before we eat,” Skuld says and a glimmer shines in her eyes.

He’s seen that kind of look before, he saw it in their eyes, his handlers when he successfully completed a mission. It brings a new kind of torment to him as he thinks and knows and remembers all the faces of the dead.

“This one is interesting,” Uror says. “He wants to bait me and play me and try and talk his way out.”

Tony smiles but it’s edged and raw. “I’m not certain what you’re doing in my workshop or how you got here, but I am pretty certain that you were not invited. JARVIS?”

“Your little toy is not functioning at the moment,” says the third of the witches. “Neither are any of your toy suits.”

Tony steps over to Bucky, who’s on his feet, though clutching onto the side of a workbench. When they touch the strands, the threads reappear – more vibrant and brilliant in their aspect. “I’m making the presumption that you have something to do with these?” Tony holds up his hand and the strands pulsate about him.

It reminds the Asset of wings. It reminds the Asset that he has a name.

He reaches out, with only his voice, and it surprises him. “Tony, don’t.”

“Aa, he speaks and wants and loves now,” Skuld says and whispers around him like a snake slithering in its nest. “Look he’s remembered, and he feels, and his strings are tangled with theirs. You’ve made it worse, Sister-Wise.”

“And isn’t this why we came here to untangle the threads,” the third sister says. “Let’s do it and be gone.”

“I suggest you just do that last little bit,” Tony says as he walks to a console. He taps it and across the screen flash a cascade of visuals, none of which the Asset can follow. It feels as if the whole of his life and the other life collide as he watches Tony. He knows he’s watched him many times before, sat quietly on the couch in the workshop, with pencil and paper in his hands.

He remembers the feel of love, and it is foreign and painful to behold.

Even as the memories assault him, the bizarre interplay continues around him as the witches bait and decide upon their fate. Bucky has taken up guard duty by his side, standing close to the Asset with his hand on his shoulder. Tony works on the console, his eyes flickering back and forth between the witches and them. An alien thing takes residence in the Asset’s chest as he thinks of Tony as his, as he welcomes the touch of his mission, his friend, of Bucky.

“Kill them and be done with it,” the unnamed sister says.

“So very impatient are we, dear Veroandi?” Uror says and opens her long gnarled fingers; fingers that look like roots and branches of a tree, rough with bark and patches of moss. Through her fingers and trailing to the floor are the threads, lines stretching and linking them all together.

“Cut the lines, kill them all,” Skuld says. “When can we eat?” She sounds more like a petulant child than the old hag she actually is.

“Finish this,” Veroandi says with a slashing cut to the air.

“Um, yeah, no,” Tony says and keys in a few strokes on his console. “JARVIS, baby, you back with me?”

“Yes, sir, sorry, sir. I was delayed.”

“Give it to me, now,” Tony orders and from the corners of the workshop, doors shift and open to reveal the shining armor of the Iron Man suit. “You come here, you better be prepared to play.”

“Sister,” Skuld yells and flies at Tony while Bucky dives for something under the table.

Uror screeches as the Iron Man suit bursts from its containment pod and begins to wrap around Tony. He watches as Bucky grabs at something from under the table and then launches it at the one sister called Skuld as the same time the gauntlets encase Tony’s arms.

The shield Bucky pitched hits Skuld in the back of the head and she topples only to leap to her feet and howl. Her rage births a savage wind within the workshop, tossing equipment and tools into the hurricane of it.

Raising his hands, Tony fires the repulsors at Uror but Veroandi jumps in the way to be struck in the chest. She falls to the side, and from her silence Uror’s anger grows. She rips at the threads and then sends an arc of energy through the strands and they become like liquid lightning. Bucky crouches behind the shield as protection as Tony turns his back against it, the suit of armor a wall against the onslaught.

On the Asset, only he is vulnerable, and the bolts drive straight to his heart. Fingers of hot light pierce him through and he arches up into it, rigid as he hangs from his restraints. The pain is brilliant and perfect and he begs. But he doesn’t plead for it to stop – he wants it to continue, he craves for it to obliterate him so that the memories of death, and agony disintegrate in its wake. He only begs for it to dissipate and for his own body to become like bones and ashes in the dirt.

The strands linking them unravel like fraying threads on a loom, the loose ends split and open up, ripping from each one of them. He sees it then, he knows it. For the first time, he feels his own skin, owns his own flesh. He is Steve.

A crack like the Earth opening to engulf them splits open the room and blue fire spreads out in branches, touching each of the sisters. They collapse to the floor and Steve heaves in a tortured and scorched breath. Each inhalation burns and scalds and he fights for the next. Bucky and Tony race over to him as the storm settles and he opens his eyes to find Thor standing in the center of the workshop, hammer upraised, and fury painted across his features.

“What is this that you come to Earth and torment the lives of Midgardians?” Thor’s voice booms with anger.

Uror struggles to her feet, she looks ages older, and more frail, but defiance seethes in her tone. “We are the Norns, we do not answer to the likes of you, Asgardian.”

“You have been charged by the All Father to care for the Tree of Life, why do you come here to disrupt lives and endanger this world,” Thor asks.

Tony removes one of the gauntlets and lifts the faceplate of the suit. He focuses on Steve, his expression tender, soft, and almost lost. Steve knows he’s seeing it too, understanding how their lives have been deformed, bent to the will of the mad sisters.

“They have tangled and entwined, we could not allow it. It would rot Yggdrasil. It is our duty,” Uror says as Skuld slithers about at her feet.

“She tells the truth of it,” Veroandi says and picks up the strands to show Thor.

The knots and weavings have formed a pattern, intricate and beautiful yet linked between Steve, Tony, and Bucky.

Thor studies the threads before he says, “These lifelines and soul lines should not be seen by the likes of gods or men, why are they seen now.”

“Our work has been undone, they have meddled,” Skuld says and points at Tony. “They need to die so that we can remove the knots.”

Uror grapples to her feet and, with trembling hands, picks up the lines of thread. “These have been our lives’ work. Every moment we have taken care of the tree, and now these are bound to kill it, to strangle it as the knots work their way through the xylem.”

Thor studies the knots and frowns. “Aye, if only my brother or mother were yet alive.”

“Yeah, I don’t think your brother is welcome here,” Tony says and squeezes Steve’s shoulder. Bucky works his way around Steve and begins to unlock the mechanism to free Steve.

“But these knots, they are not normal, there is something different about them.”

Uror peers into Thor’s large fists. “They look like ordinary knots to -.”

Thor screws up his face as he concentrates on the knots tearing them apart. “No, they are not of any ordinary type. They are Runes.”

“Runes?” Tony checks on Bucky and Steve, as if to verify they are both safe, before stepping closer to Thor. “What kind?”

“They are from the special book my father, Odin, kept with tales of all the Nine Realms,” Thor replies.

“You lie, there is no such book,” Skuld sneers and jerks at the threads. It causes the lines to sizzle and flare with heat. All three of them hiss in harmony.

Ignoring her, Thor glances at them and then says, “We have no other choice, my dear brothers, we must go to Asgard and consult my father, consult Eir.”

*oOo*

As a futurist, Tony accepts things change and move - that in fact the future is fluid, but the thought, the very existence in his ownhead that futures collide and mash together does more than unsettle him. It causes his nerves to jump and jitter, like a thousand volts of electricity course through his body. What disturbs him the most is that he realizes how very much he loves this person, this Steve, this man who he knows tried to kill his partner - Bucky Barnes. If he looks to the side, concentrates only on the periphery of memories and images, the other past plays out like a strange newsreel, or silent television show. He even remembers the smell, the taste of Steve.

He scrubs a hand down his face and crosses his arms over his chest. They're all gathered now, ready to journey to Asgard at Thor's call. Natasha and Clint are guarding Steve or the Winter Soldier or whomever the hell he is. But then there's Bucky, off to the side, a quiet almost dangerous mood. Should someone guard him as well? He's the Winter Soldier in the past, the future that was stolen from them. It sends another shiver down Tony's spine.

At least Bruce seems to get his discomfiture. He's antsy as well, pacing back and forth with a cup of some craptastic herbal tea that probably tastes like twigs and chalk. None of this makes sense and the fact that Tony is tethered to a murderer, or murderers churns deep in his belly. He realizes at the same time that he's not only literally entangled with them considering the threads that glimmer across the empty space between them- they don't disappear now that the weird ass witches are about - but also that he's in love with said murderers. He clamps onto the rail of the balcony.

Steve keeps his head bowed, and turned away as if looking up at them might be too harsh, too real to face. While Bucky balances on the edge of nerves, as if he's about to explode. None of them are doing okay, and all of them need time to figure out what the hell is going on. Yet, Thor has ushered them all out onto the balcony so that Heimdall can send the bifrost to retrieve them. The Norns huddle in one corner of the Tower's penthouse balcony while the rest of them, even Steve, stay to the other side.

Thor walks outside - and he's in his thunder god wear again, with Mjolnir in hand. "Are we ready?"

Clint nods and grips his bow and Steve's upper arm as Natasha grabs the other one. The Norns protest but Thor decides to ignore them. Tony steps up to Thor as Bruce places the cup to the side.

"Not sure if a trip to Asgard is the best idea for me."

"You can stay behind, if you need to," Tony says and his voice sounds ruined, even though he hasn't screamed, hasn't cried - but his life has been torn and then sown back together in all the wrong shapes and directions. It's a wonder he can form words.

"No, I'm here," Bruce says and squeezes his shoulder.

Tony feels the heat warm his chest and the lines of thread casting from him pulsate. Both Steve and Bucky gasp as they experience Tony's connection with Bruce, how it equilibrates him and he in return balances Bruce.

"Wow, that's weird," Tony mutters as Thor lifts up his hammer.

"Heimdall, the bifrost."

The bifrost descends encompassing them and sheets of color like rain fill his senses. For the briefest of times, he feels like the rain of color, droplets and torrents of it filling his body, disintegrating his molecules until he becomes the universe. He feels as if he could stretch out and touch every aspect and understand the waves and particles of the light and beings around him. It doesn't escape his notice that he can feel and be everyone and everything. And in that briefest of moments he comprehends both joy and grief, both anger and love, both acceptance and loss. As the bifrost fades and they step onto the entrance way of Asgard, Tony's bones ache with the understanding, the knowledge of the worlds and he looks over to Bucky sees the same reflected in his eyes, but then he's drawn to the assassin, to Steve. There is a hopelessness in his eyes that Tony only touched upon during the transition. He wonders if the hopelessness comes from the idea of being tethered to them, or fear of Hydra.

As he thinks this Steve whips his head around and sneers at Tony. He jumps back a bit and Bucky tilts his head in question. He starts to answer but Heimdall, or who Tony assumes is the bifrost guy, steps down the golden stairs to their side.

"It is good to see you again, my friend, the Realms are in chaos and you are desperately needed at the All Father's side," Heimdall says as he offers a hand to Thor.

Thor grips his forearm and they clutch each other in a warrior's greeting. "I have not come back to care take of Asgard, but to deal with the meddling of these three." Thor releases Heimdall and points to the coven of the Norns.

"They are hidden from my view, my friend, and so I did not know they had left the base of the tree," Heimdall says and there's a slightest twitch of one of the witches. A fleeting thought that she shouldn't play poker runs through his mind. Something is amiss but he doesn't know what - this magic and crap really pisses Tony off.

Thor ushers his guests through Asgard after he waves off Heimdall's concern.

Natasha leaves Steve's side and sidles up to Tony as they enter Asgard. In a low voice, she says, "Not sure about these three. I don't think they're playing it straight."

"Oh you think someone from Asgard has a hidden agenda, that's perceptive," Tony says but it isn't mocking more affirming.

She raises her eyebrows at him and smiles before she rejoins Clint to escort Steve toward the main buildings of the city. Tony sweeps around, spinning on his heel as Bucky strides up next to him.

"Some amazing shit, huh?" Bucky says but there's an edge in his voice, one he rarely gets, but means that he's settled on something Tony isn't going to like.

Tony stops his gawking at the golds and structures, at the magic that's really thinly disguised technology. "What? What is it?"

Bucky grabs his arm and halts him as the rest of their party continues across the bridge. "It isn't fair to Steve."

"What? What are you talking about? He tried to kill you," Tony says but even his words hold no conviction. When he follows Steve, studies him, he remembers the different memories, he feels the swell in his chest as he recalls the many quiet moments, the moments of desire, and the moments of contemplation. These are moments he yearns for but is trying to ignore, trying to shun, because if he has these lost moments, then he'll lose Bucky.

"Steve is supposed to be the one, he's supposed to be Captain America," Bucky says. "I'm supposed to be the one manipulated and tortured, I'm supposed to be the one that has that look."

"What? What look?" Tony tries to play ignorant, but he knows it falls flat.

Bucky grips his arms and gives him a little shake. "Don't do this, Tony, it'll just be harder."

"Harder?" But Bucky is gone, rushing after the crowd on the bridge before Tony can voice another word, or even try and protest. He doesn't want to lose Bucky, but deep in his bones, to the core of who he is, he knows, knows that he is Steve's, and Steve is his.

Scrubbing a hand through his hair, he curses and follows them into the brightest, most beautiful city he's ever seen, but feels like he's walking into the pit of hell. He doesn't take in the sights or the smells or the sounds of the city. He only feels the cold, and wonders if it is always like this here, wishes he'd brought a coat or some shit. His mind wraps up in the cold - both Steve and Bucky now have a memory (or do they) of being trapped in the ice. He doesn't know what Steve is feeling, or thinking, because he isn't really talking much.

As they enter the palace and are presented in the throne room, no one speaks. Thor approaches the throne as the old man occupying it, casually lounges back in the seat. It is a strange mannerism, but Tony doesn't know the All Father, so he's a little surprised. He thought he would be gruff, and more regal. Right now, as he sits up and studies them with a cat like expression, he reminds Tony more of Loki than anyone else.

"My son, you have returned, and with all of your colorful friends," the All Father says.

Thor stutters out a reply as he looks behind him at his entourage. "Father, I come to you for advice and help. The witches, the Norns, have interfered in the ways of Midgard, changed the lives of three warriors. These matters are not for them to decide. They are only tasked with care taking of the great tree of life, Yggdrasil.”

The All Father, Odin if Tony is correct, stands and, with staff in hand, saunters down the long wide steps of the throne dais. It occurs to Tony that sauntering and the All Father do not belong in the same sentence, but he doesn’t know this culture and, as Pepper is apt to tell him, he should keep his mouth shut and listen when in the company of the unknown.

Odin circles the three Norns, and they huddle and watch him with an attitude that strikes Tony as more alluring and provocative than that of repentant subjects. Odin thumps his staff several times and looks more than disappointed at the Norns. There’s something personal, as if he’s been affronted by their actions. Tony assumes he has every right to be miffed, considering the Norns have been meddling where his favorite son likes to hang out.

Of course, what the hell does Tony know? He’s not an Asgardian scholar. Where the hell is Coulson when you need him?

“Yggdrasil is an important tasks, maidens.”

Maidens? Tony furrows his brows, they look like anything but maidens. A quick look to Natasha tells him to keep his quip to himself.

“You have upset the balance. Pray tell me why?”

Uror frees herself of her sisters’ clinging arms and gestures in a far sweeping wave. The threads from everyone in the room appear. Shimmering with iridescent light, the long strands from each of them reach out pulsating with life, interconnecting them, and then twisting in a trail through the palace into the floor.

Each strand is perfect and brilliant and the essence of power and life. Yet, the three strands from Bucky, Steve, and Tony intermingle, knotting, and contorting as they turn colors from red to gold to blue. Their strands vibrate and leave after images as if doubled and out of focus. None of the other strands are so intermixed, even Natasha’s and Clint’s which entwine in a helix like dance do not tie and link together.

“As you see, dear All Father,” Uror says with a hiss and a curled lip. “They are not right, they are mutated and wrong. They need to be removed before their lives entangle the sacred tree and cut off its nutrients.”

“You did this,” Tony says, and knows it is true even though he can’t prove a damned thing. “This morning I had one set of memories, and now I have two sets. You tell me you’re not responsible for it. Tell me which set is real?”

“And if it is not the set you hope for?” Odin says and when Tony goes to protest he lifts his hand and stops him. “There are some things we are not supposed to understand. You are only human, and your squawking is like the cries of a baby. You cannot understand the ways and needs of the gods.”

“Thor?” Bruce says and rolls his shoulders as if to release the tension building there. “Tell me this guy isn’t serious?”

“Father, I have to ask you to please refrain from this line of reasoning. Our brothers-.”

Natasha clears her throat.

“And sisters on Midgard have demonstrated time and again that they deserve our respect as equals.”

“You are blinded by your love, your boyhood crush on one of them,” Odin says. “You have abandoned your post, your rightful place at my side, and on the throne. Why should I come to your aid?”

Bowing his head, Thor murmurs, “Never have I wished to disappoint you my father, I have only hoped to show you how I respect and honor your position, but showing the fairness and fortitude to others that you have shown to me and my brother in the past.”

Odin scoffs. “Do not try and soften my position, my son.”

“Will you at least listen to their petition?”

Considering them with a final survey of each of their faces, Odin then walks back up to his throne and points to Steve. “He amongst you can plead your case.”

“Wait, a- no,” Tony says and steps forward, but Bucky’s hand is on his chest as Thor holds out his own to stop him. “He’s barely functioning. Yesterday he thought he didn’t have a name. He thought he was an instrument, a tool, a weapon. Today he’s completely lost in the new memories. You can’t-.”

“I can and I have, Master Stark, I suggest you silence yourself and allow your advocate to speak.”

Steve glances around at them, looks at the sisters-three, and then walks to the center of their circle to speak. His words are halting and measured, as if, for each syllable he must fight for a breath, as if oxygen poisons him but he craves it still. As he speaks, Tony breaks, as he reveals his memories, Tony mourns.

Steve - the Asset - who is he? Tony doesn't know at this moment, but within the thorns and barbs of his heart, he knows, he feels the sharpness of it. Steve has been within these sacred places, within the cradle of his soul, Steve has been his soul in the past. The thought of Bucky and everything he has meant and still means to Tony filters into his thoughts, he's a mess, a hot mess of confused emotions fed by images and memories and the question of what is real and what should be real.

A voice, broken and shallow stops him. Tony listens to Steve as he speaks.

"I'm not supposed to be this, but I am," Steve says. "I was smaller, weaker then, and I was changed."

No one speaks, not even Odin as his brows furrow as he watches the man - the stranger amongst them speak.

"I became everything that I dreamed, I became strong and could protect. I became healthy and could shield. I became the hero and more that I always dreamed of being. I tried to be everything that Doctor Erskine asked of me."

"What did he ask?" Thor says in a quiet whisper.

"To be a good man, never a perfect soldier but to always be a good man," Steve says and, for the first time lifts his eyes. "I'm not a good man anymore, but I am the perfect soldier."

There, within his expression is disaster, ruination, a wreckage of memories so profound that it takes Tony's breath away. He is not the only one to grasp the significance of the moment, the relevance of Steve's confession.

"Go on," Odin urges and there's something sadistic and overbearing about the man that makes Tony want to punch him in the face. Maybe it's the eye patch, he never gets along with eye patched people.

"I fought, I flew the plane into the Arctic so that the bombs wouldn't - so that everyone would be safe," Steve says. "Maybe they shouldn't have found me, woken me up."

Bucky pipes in and in a hushed tone says, "That's not right, Steve. You should have been the one to wake up instead of me."

Steve shares a passing glance at Bucky but then continues. "I met friends, them, the Avengers. I met Tony-." His voice fragments then into harsh shards like twisted metal against metal as he speaks through his gritted teeth. "I loved him. We loved one another. I was someone then, someone."

Tony blinks away the memories bubbling up, the first time he inched his hand across the table at a little Italian restaurant. He laid it there, waiting to see if Captain America might take it, and Steve did - tentatively at first, but once he touched, he never let go. The memories are strong and overwhelm him. The touch of a kiss - the first one he shared with Steve mixed with the first time he kissed the other Captain America- the one he knows from this reality - when he first kissed Bucky. Each of them kiss differently. Steve's starts out soft, testing, and then slowly evolves to be all encompassing as he kisses with his mouth, his tongue, his hands as he caresses Tony's beard, his chin. Bucky kisses differently, he dives in and never comes up for air. He's a world wind of passion and heat and need. Each and every kiss peppers Tony's thoughts as he listens to Steve retell their tale that no longer exists.

"They came to me then, in the heat of a battle," Steve says. "They, the Norns. They bound me and held me and asked me questions."

Odin glares at the Norns and then back at Steve. "What questions?"

"They asked me what I would do to save my friend," Steve replies.

Bucky closes his eyes and turns away a muttered, damn it on his lips.

"And you replied?" Odin asks with a tilt to his head and an almost challenge to his stance.

"I said I would give my life for his," Steve says and there is silence throughout the great hall. "And then they asked me what Tony means to me and I answered truthfully."

Tony's heart echoes hard and harsh throughout the hall, he is sure. He only hears the drum of it, the roar of pain and loss like a great wave in his ears.

"I said he means more to me than life."

Odin pounds down the staff he carries and the large black birds like ravens come to his calling. They caw and circle but land far away. Odin scoffs at them and then turns to his son. "You ask too much, my son. The will has been done to save the great tree. I cannot change what has been done, for to do it will undo time and twist and gnarl the tree at its roots."

"I beg you father, there is no purpose to it. Why would they interfere? How can they interfere?" Thor says as the Norn hiss at him.

"Yours is not to question, yours is to obey," Odin yells. "These creatures, more like pets, should not be of our concern. They are meaningless in the great scheme of things."

"Meaningless, meaningless?" Tony steps up and ignores Thor's warning. "Who saved your ass from the tessaract when your lunatic son decided he wanted to use it as a doorway? Who saved the Realms when the convergence occurred? If we hadn't been there, if Midgardians hadn't stepped up to the plate, or hall or whatever the hell, you'd be shit out of luck with your dark elves and fuck. I don't give a crap. These witches have no right to muck up my reality."

"Then tell me, good Man of Iron, which reality would you chose?"

"Father, please let us see Eir."

Odin only holds up a hand to stop him. "No, he must answer. What reality? Who would you condemn to be the tortured soul, experimented on, mutilated, abused, used, tortured. Who, my good sir of Iron, who?"

"Don't Tony, this is mine to decide!" Bucky says. "This was my life, I should have-."

"No." Steve stands taller, straighter than Tony has seen him. "No, this was my decision, I decided. I was asked. I took on the weight of it. I will bear it."

"Father, please," Thor says, his voice ragged.

Tony looks behind him and sees the crowd of his friends, from Clint to Natasha, to Bruce braced for whatever they are needed, for whomever might need them. But then he sees the Norns as they smile and cackle at their predicament.

Before Odin can proclaim a decision, Tony interrupts him and says, "I want both."

Odin stops in mid-motion of drawing up the staff. "What?"

"I want both, complete memories. I want both."

"But there can be only one reality, one that everyone will recall and dwell upon," Odin states.

"Everyone in this room, everyone will have both memories. The rest of the world, I don't care. But us, we'll have both complete memories."

Bruce and Natasha smile while Clint folds his arms and nods.

"This isn't right, this shouldn't be-" Steve says as Bucky mouths off as well adding in his curses.

Odin considers them, studying the room with a critical, if unforgiving, eye. "Fine, you will have it your way. And long may you suffer for it. Uror, follow the wish and knit the lines together, forever."

No further thought or protest is given.

It is done.

*oOo*

Two weeks later and Steve has settled into the Tower like the rest of the Avengers. Awareness brings dichotomy though, and the cruel, bitter knowledge that only his team mates know the other side of him. To the rest of the world he is still the Winter Soldier, to SHIELD, to Fury, to Coulson, he walks with a black mark on him as an associate of Hydra.

He works to be the Steve that was – Captain America – but he isn’t that person. He’s a Steve Rogers who wanted to fight bullies all of his life but, instead, became one. He slams his bandaged fist into the punching bag, he finds a certain rhythm and loses himself in it. While the team might accept him as the once Captain America, he does not. He cannot let Bucky suffer the fate he is burdened with, even though Bucky is now haunted by the same dreams. He made the sacrifice for reasons.

To save the man he cherished.

And to save the man he loved.

And now he believes he’s lost both of them. He might as well only be the Asset, the Winter Soldier. He hunches into the next blow, allowing the ricochet of the strike to vibrate up his arm. His cringes but continues, harder, faster, and his metal arm crashes into the bag to split it and send it flying.

“You’re doing it again, aren’t you?”

He doesn’t turn at the voice.

“Come back upstairs,” Bucky says.

“I like it down here better,” Steve says as he retrieves another bag. He flexes his real hand and then the metal one. The one piece of evidence that he is, in fact, the Winter Soldier and not Captain America.

“He wants to see you.”

“Don’t, don’t say that,” Steve says and the memories of a time forgotten sweep over him. He wants to forget and, for a moment, wishes the Norns had left him senseless, an automaton, an Asset. Because he cannot take the idea, the daily torment that he does not have the man he loved, loves, the man he gave up everything for.

“I want you there,” Bucky says.

Steve peers up at him and shakes his head. “How can you say that when I tried to kill you?”

“I tried to kill you right back,” Bucky says and crosses the distance between them, he grasps Steve’s metal fingers. “I remember hitting you, hard, in the face. I remember shooting you repeatedly. I remember the feel of this metal arm on me. I remember how it feels. Don’t tell me not to find you, don’t tell me not to tell you how much he’s suffering because you’re not there with us-.”

“He’s yours.”

“But maybe, maybe it could be something else,” Bucky says.

Steve bows his head and feels the prickle of hot tears. “I can’t-.”

“I love you, you damned punk,” Bucky says as he moves in, as he raises his other hand and cups Steve’s jaw. “Always have, always will.”

Steve lays a hand over Bucky’s and holds his gaze before he says, “I can’t do this to him. I can’t.”

“He’s not asking you to,” Tony says and Steve leaps away from Bucky, staggering backward.

“This isn’t what it looks like.”

“Why? Because it looks like my boyfriend is making a pass at my boyfriend,” Tony says as he leans against the doorframe of the gym.

“No, it wasn’t- wait, what?” Steve says and tries to balance out what he’s just heard with what he knows, but trying to do that is so complex. It feels like figuring out a quadratic equation back in high school.

Tony strides across the room, more like he’s walking a stage, about to perform. He doesn’t slow down or stop he just gathers Steve in his arms and presses his lips hot and insistent against Steve’s slightly open mouth.

It brings back all the memories of their time. He sees and feels and he’s spinning like he’s on a ferris wheel that’s lost its bearings and its wheeling down the midway. He wants this so much, he feels the pulsation of it. And he finds his hands raking their way down Tony’s back. The long lost memories guide him, tell him where to touch Tony, because he’s loved Tony for an age, and even if that age has to be a fairy tale, he still wishes for it fondly.

Breaking away, Tony reaches out and invites Bucky into their circle. They fall into one another and it feels right and good and suddenly the threads, the tangled weavings of their souls make sense to Steve.

“Say you’ll be with us, say you’ll stay with us,” Bucky says.

“With you?” Steve says and wonders if he can, if his ragged soul can build upon those wishes to be something more, something better than only an Asset, a tool to be used.

“With both of us,” Tony says. He kisses Steve again and this time it tastes more like a promise, it tastes like tomorrow and it forgets the sins of yesterday.

“Yes.”

It is all they need to hear. He’s invited and welcomed and he realizes that history isn’t written by the loser, that indeed history is written by the victor with all of its inaccuracies and gaps and mysteries. He realizes that history must sometimes be learned from and sometimes forgiven to start a new.

His soul entwined, Steve welcomes a new definition of history, of his history, and a new promise for tomorrow with Bucky and Tony.

*oOo*

Sitting in the shade of the tree, Uror isn’t surprised when Odin enters their little cove. Her sisters are about, but she doesn’t summons them when the All Father appears.

Because this is not the All Father, because the All Father is gone, dust these many months. The mirage shifts and changes to reveal Loki with his cat like grin and his wild dark hair.

“Tell me, All Father,” she mocks. “What plan have you now?”

“You failed me, Uror, I may not look upon you very kindly now,” Loki says with a clear warning in his voice.

“I did what you asked,” Uror says with a wave.

“They were supposed to destroy each other,” Loki yells, his eyes a flare of hot green. “Not fall in bed together.”

“Tangling threads is always somewhat questionable a strategy. I am no weaver of fates, all I do is guard over them.” Uror watches the long threads of lives as they feed the tree of life. It hangs all about them, like vines from a tree.

“Breaking them, switching their fates you said would devastate them, would lead to their destruction.”

“I cannot always read the ways of the thread,” Uror says. “I warned you that even with the threads, man has free will. They are strong in their will, all of them.”

Loki hisses at her. “Then I will find another way to rewrite their history, I will find another way to destroy what they have.”

“Do tell, dear Loki, why do you care of these little humans, why these three?”

“Have you never understood the power of the three? The heart, the mind, and the soul.” Loki smiles. “They represent the center of that team and I will eliminate them so that Midgard will be mine as well.”

Uror stands up and picks at the threads. “Tangling is one way.”

“It didn’t work.”

Uror strums along the lines of life. “No, it didn’t. But, there is another.”

“Another?” He urges her on with a quick lift of a brow.

“Fraying them, fray the lines and they will break.”

“Break.”

“Snap.” She laughs.

Loki nods and says, “When do we start?”

THE END.